It’s Time to Get Writing Again

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoIt’s been a fair while since I actively wrote much on here. In fact, for quite some time all I’ve used this blog for is to let everyone know when a session here or there has had to be cancelled. That’s just not right at all.

It’s time for that to change.

Many of our posts have proved to be (sometimes surprisingly!) popular, gaining local interest as well as praise from instructors here in the UK and overseas. Early writing such as our reviews of Cutting Edge’s “Systema Basics” series and “The Pavement Arena” by the British Combat Association’s Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine were well-received and continue to be read often today. Writeups from training sessions, notably ones covering topics such as fighting on the ground, dealing with multiple attackers, striking from positions of disadvantage and just getting knackered with gruelling drills did well to attract attention from the world, and many readers found them interesting and informative. Posts such as this one from Red Nose Day last year did especially well to attract readers due to their technical information and poorly-scribbled diagrams!

However, as we’ve spent more and more time training I’ve spent less and less time writing. Like I said, it’s time for that to change. When wondering what I wanted to write, I realised that I wasn’t asking the right question, which is:

What do you want to read?

There are a few ideas brewing for getting back into the swing of things with our various online presences (some of which you’ve seen nothing of yet at all!) but more than anything I want to hear what you think. What do you want me to write about? What questions do you have that have gone unanswered? What have you been searching for but never really found anything covering the topic to your satisfaction? Let us know whichever way you like.

The next move is yours.

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10 Questions with Dan Holloway (themartialview.com, Eiryukan Aikido and Function First)

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your martial arts journey – how did it start?

I first started martial arts when I was 6 years old with Karate in the local church hall. I think I started as my parents wanted me to improve confidence and gain fitness, flexibility etc. I did Karate for a couple of years but then to be honest got a bit bored with it. I wanted to continue martial arts and so found an advertisement for Aikido at a local RAF base. That’s when I started and continue to teach and practice Aikido today. I’ve also done various other arts for varying degrees of time. I did MMA at Hull University for a few years under Louis Chapman as well as Jiu-Jitsu and Boxing. When I left university I spent some time in Australia training Aikido full time with Sensei Joe Thambu who is internationally recognised for his Aikido and self-defence skills. I then joined Matt Frost at Function First Lincoln and started to learn KFM, and now his new Renegade Street Tactics programme that he has just introduced after a few years of development. I feel really fortunate to have found martial arts so early and to have trained under such great people like Joe Thambu, Matt Frost, Robert Mustard and Justo Dieguez.

 

2) In our conversations we’ve mentioned the role of ‘traditional’ martial arts today as an area of particular interest. What role do they have for you personally, and for society in general today in your opinion?

I’ve actually written an article on this for my blog www.themartialview.com. It’s a complicated subject with lots of different elements to it.

You can firstly look at combat effectiveness and that’s what the early UFCs wanted to look at. Which art was the best when it came to a no holds barred kind of fight? Having trained primarily in Aikido for a number of years a constant criticism I hear for this art is that the techniques are unrealistic and reliant on the compliance of your partner. It’s true that when we first learn Aikido we work together to get the technique down, but what people sometimes don’t grasp is that the techniques are sometimes irrelevant and merely a way to understand the main principles of that art. All martial arts regardless of style work on the principles of unbalancing your opponent while keeping your own balance, neutralising the attack, and then employing power through the hips and lower body. Therefore I think all martial arts have their own element of combat effectiveness and teach the same principles, even if there is a slightly different slant. It’s dependent on the individual learning the art to keep realistic examples in mind, as well as the instructor to show how the art can be used for self-protection.

Self-protection or combat effectiveness is just one element to the martial arts though and I think that the development, fitness, self-discipline and respect that you learn are more important. Especially for children. As I’ve already said, I think the martial arts have shaped who I am today enormously and hope to continue training for the rest of my life. If martial arts were compulsory in schools and taught from an early age I think that society and people would have a lot more respect and discipline towards each other than it does at the moment! That’s just my opinion but I think the martial arts can offer an enormous amount of benefit to society today both in terms of practical self-protection, but more importantly, just improving you as a human being. The full article can be found here: http://www.themartialview.com/the-role-of-traditional-martial-arts-today/

 

3) How does self-protection fit into what you do?

Self-protection is just one element of Aikido as I’ve already discussed and it’s one that I personally like to focus on as it’s something that I enjoy and want to learn as much as I can about. Aikido is traditionally seen as a soft martial art but I again think that depends on the style and instructor teaching. I like to add realistic elements into my training and teaching, and think it’s an important aspect to Aikido that is sometimes overlooked. It’s known as the art of peace and that’s fantastic with the way it can improve people’s lives and a really important element, but I always remember that it is a martial art and needs to be treated as such. Some Aikido out there looks fake and put on to me and this just damages the reputation of those who want to learn effective Aikido; lowering the reputation of martial arts in general. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to train at Function First Lincoln, which (as is in the name) puts the function first. The head coach, Matt Frost, has led an incredible life and gained some real insight into real world violence and self-protection and so in terms of effective self-protection I don’t think you can get a whole lot better than him. You can read all about him and his experiences again in my 3-part interview on my blog.

 

4) What motivates you in your training? How do you get yourself going when you’re not in the mood or you have other things to do?

To be honest with you, I’m normally in the mood to train as it’s just something I’ve done for so long it comes naturally to me. When I was training in Australia I was training 6 days a week, for sometimes 7-8 hours a day in 40 degree heat. That was tough and there were a lot of times when I didn’t want to train. When that happened I remembered I was here to learn from the best and needed to make the most of my time there and so tried to improve one thing per lesson, no matter how big or small. That kept me focussed and gave me a realistic goal I could achieve after every lesson.

 

5) What would you say is the most important skill or attribute for a teacher?

I think patience and being able to communicate effectively are two majorly important aspects. You need to be patient and understand that people have different learning styles, or learn at different paces and the content needs to be fun and personal enough to ring true with people. I think the use of humour is really important as well as it can just make people feel at ease and be more receptive to the knowledge you are trying to pass along. Safe International recently wrote a great article about the use of humour in their self-protection courses which can be found here: http://safeinternational.biz/blog/2014/03/12/humour-is-the-missing-link-in-most-self-defense-courses-2/

 

6) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate in your training and teaching?

In terms of learning from Matt at Function First Lincoln I’m still just a beginner and so am taking in everything I can to do with Renegade Street Tactics and thinking how it applies to what I’ve already studied before as for me there is quite a lot of crossover. In terms of my Aikido I’m trying to increase the speed and fluidity of my techniques so they become more effective and rapid.

 

7) What do you like to do aside from training and teaching? What interests you?

Music and martial arts are big parts of my life. I’ve played the guitar and piano for a number of years and think it takes that same discipline to learn an instrument as a martial art. The hours you have to spend trying to nail the chord progression or riff to a song is the same hours you spend trying to nail the technique and so to me again there’s a great crossover with both!

 

8) What advice do you have for students out there reading this?

Enjoy your training! If you’re really into it you will be for the long run as in my experience, once someone gets the bug for martial arts, they have it for a very long time. Everyone has days where they feel like they don’t want to train but I’d encourage people to go anyway and once they’re there they’ll enjoy themselves. I’d also encourage people to learn from everyone and train in everything they can. Traditional guys can learn stuff from other styles and real self-defence such as Keysi by Justo, Defence Lab or Renegade Street Tactics and vice versa! Learn from everyone, train with everyone and try everything! Then, like Bruce Lee said, take what’s useful and discard what isn’t!

 

9) What advice do you have for instructors out there reading this?

I’m not really sure I can give advice as I’m sure there are a million instructors out there better than I am with more experience. I would say don’t let your own training suffer too much as a result of teaching. Your own development may take a bit of a hit when you first start instructing as your focus then turns to the students rather than 100% you, but you always need to make the time for you personally to develop and progress, working on more advanced things or recovering the basic elements of whatever art you do.

 

10) What is your ultimate goal with training and teaching? Where do you want it to lead?

The dream would be eventually to set up my own academy which teaches both traditional martial arts as well as pure self defence and fitness. That’s a long way in the future however and so for the time being I’m learning all I can, training with everyone I can and just trying to get as much experience in the martial arts as possible!

 

You can get in touch with Dan at http://themartialview.com/, join the Martial View Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/614340578652460/ or find him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/themartialview.

Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge

Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge

While it is of course true that one cannot endeavour to effectively learn a martial art or combative system from videos and books, such material can prove invaluable when supplementing existing training, or if you just want to learn a few new concepts to add to your training. This was precisely my aim when buying the ‘Systema Basics’ set from Cutting Edge (you may know them as Perten from YouTube). You can buy all of the DVDs here.

So what is Systema?

(Information from here and here.) Systema (Системa, to write it properly) literally translates to ‘The System’ in Russian. It can be thought of as a general title, similar to the Chinese Kung Fu in that it encompasses multiple different styles and systems. It has been adopted for some high-risk Special Military Operations Units in the спецназ (Spetsnaz) and the ГРУ (GRU) among others after Stalin’s death. Its more extended history and roots are unclear, and multiple conflicting theories exist as to where it came from and what its influences are. Its general characteristics that seem to be consistent throughout different practitioners’ styles are ones that are integral to my teaching in the CSPS; some of which I implemented before knowing about Systema and others I adopted to my training and teaching after finding out how effective Systema is. Here are a few main ones:

  • A profound appreciation of the importance of breathing
  • Abstract, concept-based training rather than technique-based training
  • A lot of emphasis on understanding tension and relaxation
  • An appreciation of the body as a whole system, and a holistic view of training and health in general
  • Psychological training pertaining to fear and relaxation
  • Flowing motion and the resulting efficient transfer of kinetic energy

Robert Poyton of Cutting Edge states that Systema is, in its purest form, ‘a system of breathing and movement’.

In the following sections I have included links to the pages on their website where you can purchase the DVDs, and embedded their trailers from YouTube.

Systema Basics Volume 1 – Falls and Rolls:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B001

This DVD covers one of the most important aspects of training – how to safely fall over without injury! I don’t need to tell you why this is essential knowledge, whether you train combatively or not – consider falling off your bike, or tripping over, or even falling down the stairs! With the right approach to training, all of these can be much less dangerous events than they would otherwise be, which can never be a bad thing! According to this DVD, rolling also teaches us to work against impact (with the floor), how to move safely in dangerous situations while helping us to overcome psychological barriers like fear. There’s also an introduction to takedowns and throws. I thoroughly enjoyed the approach this DVD has to mobility techniques like these, and the mechanics of rolling exemplified in this video are both tactically sound and biomechanically viable. I completely agree with their teachings in this DVD, and you know that means a lot coming from me, because I am extremely picky.

Systema Basics Volume 2 – Ground Mobility:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B002

Building on perfectly from the previous DVD is this one on ground mobility training. Aside from the obvious tactical benefits in a combative situation, the kind of mobility training in this video offer phenomenal core strength training, and are very fun too. When I’m bored at home (which isn’t that often these days – always something to do…) I often have a roll around just because it’s so fun! I get funny looks from people at home, but we shouldn’t let that bother us! A note to parents and instructors – kids love this stuff! I have the honour of co-instructing at PHDefence, and I often get the kids there flopping around on the floor like this, and they absolutely love it! I would recommend that everybody, whether you’re interested in combat and self-protection or not, give this kind of training some thought, as it’s invaluable and highly enjoyable.

Systema Basics Volume 3 – Wave Movement:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B003

Wave moment, a key theme in Systema, allows for a ‘free and natural response’, allowing for both the absorption of and delivery of powerful strikes. This DVD goes through all of the basic concepts necessary to assimilate wave motion to your own movement – breathing, tension and relaxation. In addition to this, there are drills to aid with achieving a full range of motion in your joints, which is of course essential. There is work on using the hips to increase striking power, and also an introduction to what Cutting Edge call ‘Figure-Eight’ striking, which is (as with everything in Systema it seems) both effective and fun. Basically this DVD is about the effective coordination of the different parts of your body which allows for a much more natural motion in combat and training. I have yet to find an aspect of training or combat that the wave motion is not useful for, and that includes rolling, headbutts and even weapon work – it’s an extremely powerful concept to play with, which I would recommend everyone take a look at.

Systema Basics Volume 4 – Health:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B004

Don’t skip over this one! If you’re extremely pragmatic in your training mindset, it’s perhaps understandable to think: ‘What’s this got to do with self-protection?’ The answer is that it has everything to do with self-protection! If you’re ill, or have a weakness in your body or even your mind, then you are unable to defend yourself effectively. Consider this – how much thought do you give to self-protection from pathogens and infection? If not, why not? Is it any less an assault on your person than a human attacking you? This DVD covers use of sticks, concepts regarding posture and balance, cold water dousing (very good stuff) and massage. Take it from me – this is fantastic information that you will regret missing out on.

Systema Basics Volume 5 – Groundfighting:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB005

More fun stuff! Working on principles instead of the more standard MMA-style techniques, Robert Poyton’s different approach is both refreshing and fascinating. Breathing, movement, striking from the ground and escaping compromised positions are all included on this video. I’ve found their approaches to be very useful concepts that are worth assimilating into any training system or martial arts style.

Systema Basics Volume 6 – Takedowns:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB006

This DVD’s pretty simple to explain – it’s stuff you’ll find useful if you’ve got someone standing up, and you want them on the floor! Systema takes a very efficient approach, concerning itself with the structure of the opponent’s body and how to break it rather than set throws and takedowns. An understanding of posture, support and how to work against tension is what you’ll get from this video, which is fantastic knowledge for beginners and experienced combatants alike.

Systema Basics Volume 7 – Movement:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB007

Posture, footwork and movement in general is the focus of this DVD, and it is a sound addition to any training you already do. The drills in this video will help you get yourself in the right place at the right time much more readily than one without this understanding of how to move would be capable of. Again, I heartily recommend it as a great addition to your combative collection!

Systema Basics Volume 8 – Breathing:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB008

As you all know, breathing is central to everything in Systema, as it is in ESP. It underpins literally everything you do, whether it’s exercises, striking, dealing with being struck or anything else. The particularly interesting section of this for me was breathing through physical discomfort, which I have found extremely useful – using these concepts, whether it’s stubbing your toe or accidentally letting a punch slip through your guard, you can make things a lot better for yourself through simply being aware of your breathing. If you’re into meditation (I am) then this DVD will be especially interesting.

Systema Basics Volume 9 – Biomechanics:
Please note that this title is no longer available (as of 29.10.2013). 
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB009

‘The body is a marvellous machine and in some ways can be manipulated as such.’ This quote from their website speaks for itself! Paul Genge in this one explains how the principles of levers, cogs, spindles and wedges can be used in combative situations. An awareness of these principles is extremely helpful in all situations, and this DVD could well be the most important of the lot if you’re new to this kind of training. The mix of diagrams and examples works especially well for the left-brained among us, but the way it’s all explained makes this an extremely accessible and yet highly informative video.

Systema Basics Volume 10 – Kicks:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB010

It is what it says on the tin really – a DVD about how to apply Systema principles to kicking! After going through some stretches and exercises, the DVD shows how to deal with kicks as well as dish them out, which was the particularly interesting bit for me. Sometimes training can focus too much on kicking pads, and not enough on what to do if someone else is kicking you – don’t let this happen with yours!

Systema Basics Volume 11 – Solo Training:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B0011

This is the first one I saw, and it was a great place to start with this series. The DVD goes through a wealth of information regarding exercises you can do alone, working with sticks and knives, breath work, ideas for ground mobility and how to adapt the basic exercises to develop new ones. At the end is a guided breathing exercise which takes you through a tension and relaxation routine, which is great for those who are interested in stress relief or meditation. This DVD is the perfect one to get if you’re not sure whether you want to commit to buying the whole set in one go, and want to get an idea of what’s in it first as it gives you a great introduction to what Systema is. This one might be my favourite DVD of the set because it’s so useful, whether you want general fitness and health benefits or combative training. If you get any of them, make sure you get this one.

Systema Basics Volume 12 – Drills:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB012

Similar to the previous volume, this is another ‘bits of everything’ video. The last in the series, it draws together all of the concepts from the other DVDs and expands on how to develop your own drills while also developing natural movement. It explains abstract ‘no technique’ learning, how to structure a training session (useful information that all instructors in particular should consider) and sparring drills, among other things. It’s a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.

The Bottom Line – Pros:

  • An extremely informative and detailed introduction to Systema training.
  • Concepts anyone can take on board, adapt and use for many aspects of life.
  • Informal and entertaining delivery.

The Bottom Line – Cons:
In all honesty I can’t think of any! I thoroughly enjoyed this series and though I wasn’t completely new to Systema, I learned a lot from it. I was going to say I would like more elaboration and depth, but then I remembered the title – ‘Systema Basics’.

The Bottom Line – Conclusion:
I would recommend that everyone with even a passing interest in these topics would benefit from this set. It works. That’s all I have to say really! Enjoy.
Don’t forget – there’s a discount for buying in multiples. Check out the Special Offers section for full information.

Josh Nixon
Founding Instructor, ESP

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